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World’s largest slurry pump improves Syncrude reliability

Jan 30, 2016

The Aurora Hydrotransport System has come a long way since it began operations in 2000 thanks to the success of the ‘super pumps.

“It’s been a progression,” says Dan Wolfe, Senior Mechanical Associate with Research and Development, who designed the super pump. “In Aurora’s first 10 years of operation, there were outages in one system or another on a weekly basis. We didn’t fully understand why we were having so many maintenance issues, relative to the North Mine.”

Through the development of super pumps over the last three years, this hydrotransport system at Aurora has gone from having three major pump outages a year to just one. An added bonus to less downtime has been a cost savings of approximately $3-million a year in maintenance costs alone.

Developed by Syncrude, hydrotransport technology involves adding warm water with oil sand to create slurry, which travels via pipeline to the extraction facilities. In the pipeline, the bitumen begins to separate from the sand and water. Slurry pumps, like the super pump, provide the pressure to keep the oil sand slurry moving.

Syncrude’s Mildred Lake Mine is located 40 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, with the Aurora Mine located 75 kilometres north of the city. Through extensive research and data analysis, the team discovered the Aurora pumps were experiencing significantly more damage than pumps at Mildred Lake. This was due to moving more material, and a different slurry preparation process that has twice-as-large rocks in the slurry.

Dan and his team determined the kind of equipment that was needed to increase the lifespan of Aurora’s slurry pumps. Armed with the right information, the team set out to design a pump that would run for 6,000 hours with the goal of having only one major outage a year.

The design incorporated an 84-inch diameter impeller, which was 50 per cent larger and three times the weight of the original. The impeller is a large rotating component at the centre of the pump that adds pressure to the slurry to move it through the pipeline. The increased size of the impeller allows it to rotate 35 per cent slower than before while maintaining the same level of output pressure and flow. Lowering the speed helps to create less impact from the large rocks and clumps of oil sand, resulting in significantly less maintenance.

A priority for Syncrude’s Research and Development team is to improve the production process and streamline operations. By installing the super pumps, Dan and his team were able to discover ways to increase reliability of Aurora’s hydrotransport system.

“As of now, Aurora is the only place in the world with this size and weight of pump. In the two years of operating we are pretty excited about the results,” adds Dan. “Going from three major pump outages to one in a year is a huge accomplishment.”